New York City officials suggest turning virus-emptied hotels into ‘affordable housing’, other ‘community services’


NEW YORK CITY, NY – The possibility of using closed hotels as affordable housing units is being introduced, The City News reported on June 26. Some think these affordable housing units could be the answer to the affordable housing problem and the economic crisis for tourism in New York.

The tourism industry isn’t expected to recover from the fiscal crisis caused by COVID-19 pandemic until late 2023 or early 2024.

This is an exploration by the city of New York in an effort to find cheaper alternative for affordable housing and supportive housing which offers health care and social services for people with mental illness or substance abuse disorders. 

Deputy mayor for housing and economic development Vicki Been reported:

“Unfortunately, we’re seeing a tremendous hit to our hotels because of the reduction in tourism, because of the lack of travel – and hopefully most of that will come back. But some of it may not.”

There are a couple of different opportunities that the close hotels can offer, according to both Vicki Been and Department of Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Louise Carroll. Hotels can also be used as a shared housing model that includes SRO-like units where common areas can be shared by residents.

In the 1950s, SRO units were used quite often, there were about 200,000 back then and today as few as 30,000. In the 1960s SROs were considered illegal because they were substandard housing. 

It was reported the tourism regarding city hotel occupancy rates were reduced by 47% in May when compared to last May, totaling a 47.2% occupancy rate. Profits were down 82.6% when compared to May of last year, stats showing approximately $166 million.

The Daily News reported that about 13,000 homeless people are staying at those commercial hotels in a report from the department of homeless services officials. The COVID-19 virus has closed most of the city’s hotels, with dreadful financial hardships.

Since New York is considered to be a federal disaster zone, FEMA will pay for the rooms to help reduce the risk of infection. It’s a nice idea to move the homeless who are at a heightened risk of infection and hospitalization into these hotels turned shelters for emergency purposes. However, FEMA can only help so much financially, and the nation is already in just a slight financial deficit, in case no one has noticed.

It was reported by housing developers and operators for affordable housing that the converting the hotels into affordable housing and other community services would be a cost-effective way to create affordable housing on a huge scale and much less expensive than building from scratch.

The New York Daily News reported that the transformation of remodeling the hotels into affordable studio housing could be a long-term solution rather than short-term, but it’s unknown if they will ever turn back to hotels to attract tourism again.

Other at-risk adults such as senior citizens, individuals with mental illness, substance abuse disorders, and those just recently released from incarceration who need social service and healthcare support can also benefit from the development. 

New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio planned to build and preserve 300,000 units of affordable housing by 2026. The Independent Budget Office report learned that through March, New York financed over 164,000 units; 70% of those were saved by refinancing and upgrades instead of new construction.

Vijay Dandapani, CEO of the Hotel Association of New York City, commented that financial realities for some hotel owners will line up with the city’s interests:

“In this particularly stressful time with virtually no revenues, we expect there will be a high degree of interest from some owners. It is pretty much a certainty that the hotel industry won’t be able to recover in any meaningful way till at least 2023, and more likely 2024.”

The New York Daily News’ Eric Rosenbaum reported that the economic benefits for the city of New York would be huge.

Eric Rosenbaum, the president and CEO of Project Renewal, commented:

“This is a big idea, and making it happen will not be easy. It will require a lot of leadership in city government, but the long-term benefit could be truly transformational for thousands of homeless New Yorkers and our city as a whole.

“Sometimes a crisis makes it possible to do things that would not otherwise be imaginable. This is one of our moments. Let’s not miss our chance.”

New York is just one big problem with many different arms right now. Law Enforcement Today has been reporting on their many downfalls, especially since COVID-19 hit and even more so once the rioting started.

Implode is defined as: “to collapse or cause to collapse violently inwards; to end or fail suddenly or dramatically”. This is the word that NYPD Police Commissioner Dermot Shea used to describe the criminal justice system. And he chose the right word.

“You have to step back and look at this. You have a criminal-justice system that is imploding,” Shea told reporters on Wednesday at One Police Plaza in Manhattan. “Imploding. That’s the kindest way to put it.”

The Commissioner illustrated his point by highlighting the many criminal cases there were “ongoing, stagnant or deferred”.

“Each one of them represents somebody not being held accountable and no consequences.”

These comments came just days after a weekend that saw 75 people shot in the city (bringing the total in June up top 125 shootings).  And the NYPD believes that many of the triggers pulled in those cases were pulled by people out on parole or who currently have open cases. 

“You hear terms such as supervised release right now, that is a fallacy,” Shea said. “There is no supervision. There is just release, and you are seeing the repercussions of that across the city.”

The city has seen a rise in shooting victims. While 359 people were shot in all of 2019, 2020 has already seen 459, and we still have a few days to go until we reach the halfway mark. 

According to the Daily Mail

“‘We have been trending this way for a while, and the shootings are just the latest symptoms,’ Shea said. ‘We need the criminal justice system to start working, quite frankly.’

He insinuated that criminal justice reforms, including the elimination of cash bail for certain offenses, has had a role in the increase in violence throughout the city. 

‘People do not want to talk about this, but I will not be shy and talk about it. There is literally almost no one in jail,’ Shea said. 

‘When you ask the Police Department now to somehow wave a magic wand and fix when you are putting dangerous people back on the street, you’re seeing what’s happening. And the shame is again, this is not a surprise.’

Shea said that many of the shootings that took place over the past weekend involved ‘three common nexuses: alcohol, marijuana and dice games.'”

Now, NYC mayor Bill de Blasio wants to pretend that police are vital to the safety of the city and its residents. After years of ignoring them, criticizing them, and using them to play personal staff to his his family, the mayor said that “hundreds of police officers normally in desk jobs would be heading out onto the street as part of the ‘Summer All Out’ program which is beginning now.” 

These officers would be focusing on the 20 precincts throughout the city experiencing issues with gun violence – specifically those in the Bronx and North Brooklyn.

‘We know when there’s shootings they beget more shootings. We understand retaliation, we understand gang dynamics. And I’ve heard from a number of community leaders that they are increasingly concerned,’ de Blasio said Monday.

And as we see this increase in violent crime in New York City, let’s not forget: 

Police Commissioner Dermot Shea announced on Monday that the NYPD undercover anti-crime unit was set to be disbanded. Shea said the move was part of a “seismic” shift within the NYPD.

The disbanding, of course, is part of police reforms that rioters hope to bring to police departments following the death of George Floyd while in police custody over in Minneapolis. The department is also looking at funding cuts of up to $1 billion of its $6 billion budget.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has a complicated, at best, relationship with the officers in his city’s department, tweeted following Shea’s announcement:

“Your city hears you. Actions, not words.”

It’s unknown if de Blasio was referring to the rioters hearing the action, or the other criminals that will no doubt pounce on the loss of the proactive work within the unit.

The near 600 units assigned to the elite anti-crime unit will be reassigned to “other posts,” such as detectives or neighborhood policing. 

After praising the officers for the amount of arrests they made, in addition to the amount of guns they got off the streets, Shea said:

“I would consider this in the realm of closing on one of the last chapters on stop, question and frisk.”

What’s infuriating for me, and I have to imagine the same for many of the NYPD officers, is that the mainstream media is using this to say they’re being disbanded because they don’t do their jobs correctly or safely or they’re rogue cops or what have you.

For example, the New York Times titled their article on this topic:

Yes, they have been involved in “many shootings.” Here’s why:

While the unit does account for about half of the officer involved shootings within the department, one must at least attempt to understand that this fact is due to the types of people the officers in the unit deal with on a daily basis.

In patrol, yes, some people that officers come in contact with are criminals. In anti-crime units and plainclothes undercover units, that’s essentially all they come in contact with. They’re dealing with some of the worst and most dangerous criminals out there. It’s only natural that those encounters would have a more high rate of officer involved shootings over a regular patrol officer.

They aren’t attempting to do proactive police work and still be patrol responsive from anything from a bank robbery in progress to “my neighbor’s leaves are in my yard.” They are constantly being proactive, looking for criminals and ways to get them, and their weapons, off the streets.

And yet, here we are.

Shea said this unit was part of an “outdated policing model,” and that the units do more harm than good in terms of relationships with the communities. The department, he said, will use more intel gathering and technology, whatever that means, to be able to “move away from brute force.”

Shea also said:

“This is a policy shift coming from me, personally, and the men and women in the police department were doing what I asked… they have done an exceptional job, but again I think it’s time to move forward and change how we police in this city.

“When you look at the number of anti-crime officers that operate within New York City, and you look at a disproportionate, quite frankly, percentage of complaints and shootings — and they are doing exactly what was asked of them.” 

Shea also said that some plain clothes police officers will still be out in Gotham, as well as in the transit system, although he would not say how many or if they will actually be allowed to do police work.

The Commissioner also alluded to the fact that the disbanding of the unit will have an impact on the community, and not necessarily in a positive way.

“It will be felt immediately throughout the five district attorney’s offices, it will be felt immediately in the communities that we protect.

“However, this is 21st-century policing. The key difference, we must do it in a manner that builds trust between the officers and the community.”

The absence of the unit will also likely be felt by the increased amount of guns that will be on the streets. As it is, there is already a huge spike in gun violence this year over last, despite the COVID-19 lockdowns. As of Sunday, there have been 394 incidents, up from 317 at this time last year, an increase of 25%.

Gun arrests had also been up by 8% even though other arrests had gone down, likely due to less people on the streets and more crimes being handled with citations rather than arrests.

Police Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch, who is never one to pull punches, said:

“Anti-crime’s mission was to protect New Yorkers by proactively preventing crime, especially gun violence. Shooting and murders are both climbing steadily upward, but our city leaders have clearly decided that proactive policing isn’t a priority anymore.

“They chose this strategy. They will have to reckon with the consequences.”

On the flip side, the executive director of the law enforcement policy nonprofit Police Executive Research Forum, Chuck Wexler, said:

“It’s really sending the message that we have to work on trust building. You can reduce crime, but if the public still feels that they don’t trust the police, then you’ve lost the moral high ground. Police departments across the country will see this as a wake-up call.”

Some may say that communities around the country will also see this as a wake-up call to the fact that this type of unit is what keeps major bad actors off the streets.

Of course district attorneys and civil rights lawyers are skeptical on whether the disbanding of the unit will last, and Darius Charney, a staff lawyer with the civil rights group Center for Constitutional Rights, said the move was “sudden and rushed.”

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Murdered officer's grave desecrated before headstone even placed

Charney also said:

“For this change to have any meaningful impact on how communities experience policing in N.Y.C., these former anti-crime officers will need to change the way they police communities of color, and nothing the commissioner said gives me any confidence that the N.Y.P.D. has a plan to make sure that happens.”

Charney said that the city tried something similar in 2002 when it disbanded the street crime unit, also a plain clothes unit. 

Of this, he said:

“The problem got much worse over the next 10 years.”

Likewise, Civil rights lawyer Joel Berger said:

“The anti crime units are just a legacy of street crime from the days of (ex-Mayor Rudy) Giuliani, with the motto ‘We own the night,’ just under a different name. It was never really designed to reduce crime. It was designed as a form of social control to show people in minority neighborhoods who is in charge, just like stop and frisk.”

In a statement, the Legal Aid Society said:

“This is welcome news, but New Yorkers will not be better served if these officers are simply reassigned, carrying with them the same bad habits that earned Anti-Crime its dismal reputation. The city must drastically reduce the NYPD’s headcount and use those funds to invest in communities.”

As per usual, it’s never enough. No matter what the police do, those who choose to hate them won’t be satisfied. Which is evident in many comments of protesters gathered by The Daily News.

I won’t honor those who said them with their names, but here are some direct quotes:

  • “We know how community policing actually operates… That is just a lie to keep resources in the police station.”
  • “It’s never gonna be enough until at least the NYPD and (Gov.) Cuomo sees that it’s bigger than just moving money and shifting it somewhere else.”

Eugene O’Donnell, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former cop, said:

“People are gonna die because of this. How many is hard to tell, but definitely some lives are going to be lost. But I think it’s a hard thing to argue with. We’re on an expressway heading in this direction and it can’t be stopped. The calculation in the big cities is, as long as it’s not at the hands of the police, you can have carnage.

“It’s the end of policing in the city, because these people did a disproportionate amount of it. You will never get this back even if you need it. The cops will never go back to taking risks and putting their freedom on the line. This is never going to happen. We’ve turned that corner now.”

Unfortunately, we would have to agree with Mr. O’Donnell. As always, Law Enforcement Today will keep you updated on how this move plays out for the communities of New York.

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